We’re approaching the end of the year. Time I start taking stock of what’s happened over the past year and start thinking of goals for the next one. But first, a graph. The blue line is day-to-day weight, the red is a 30-day average. Each gray horizontal axis line is ten pounds. Each gray vertical axis line is six months.

Weightloss Timeline :: 2013-2015

I’ve lost another ten pounds since my March update. This brings the overall total to more than seventy pounds. More importantly, I’ve stabilized my weight. The 30-day average is nearly flat with only minor fluctuations. The variance is smaller than five pounds up or down.

I feel great.

For positive reinforcement I took advantage of some Father’s Day sales to pick up a new wardrobe. When the sales clerk asked me what I was looking for, I answered, “Make me look like Don Draper.”

Don Draper

This accomplished two things. First, I updated my wardrobe. Most of the dress clothes I owned were twenty years out of style. Second, I now have a tangible reinforcement point to stay on target with my health. The clothes are a constant reminder of where I should be. If I can no longer fit into them, I’m doing something wrong– undoing a great deal of hard work in the process.

Confidence. Style. Swagger.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and this is a way to express it.

In other news, On Monday I hit my 2015 Go The Distance goal. On Sunday, I swam in the 3rd Annual Tri Right Masters Candy Cane Swim Meet and brought home some hardware.

  • 200 IM: 2:43 [First]
  • 50 Breast: 0:39 [First]
  • 50 Free: 0:30 [Third]
  • 200 Free: 2:26 [Second]

During the meet I met some swimmers from another Masters team in the city. They invited me to join them for practice. I may have found a new team. It could be the beginning of a great adventure.

Shelley Base Complete
Extraplanetary construction is no joke. I have been been working on this thing for over a month. It is the most ambitious project I’ve undertaken in KSP so far. And it has been immensely rewarding. My goal was to build a modular moon base on the surface of Minmus that included several major modules: Command, Communications, Science and ISRU. This is Shelley Base. It’s named after the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. For those keeping track, Keats Station was named after John Keats.

I looked at a number of approaches for moon bases. The simplest would be to just settle a collection of landers roughly near each other and call it a base. Fair, as far as it goes, but not really a construction project. Another solution would be to utilize some of the base-specific mod part packs. These are appealing, and I may look into this in the future. But this time around, I wanted to work with parts I was already familiar with. I wanted a station that was contiguous, where my kerbonauts could move from section to section without needing to go outside. I wanted it to stand on its own legs above the surface. And I wanted it to look cool.

This left me with the third choice. I could try to adapt the orbital construction techniques I practiced with Keats Station and Atlantis 1 to microgravity. I looked at Kerbal Planetary Base Systems, USI Kolonization Systems (MKS/OKS) and the Stockalike Station Parts Expansion before deciding on a combination of parts from the Stockalike Station Parts Expansion and Near Future Construction. I was familiar with these parts from the Atlantis project and I’ve really grown to like the aesthetic of them when used together.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The next step was coming up with a design. I knew the features that I wanted to include. I wanted a generally horizontal layout– like my early Minmus station design. I tried out a number of configurations until I settled on something I liked. The next step was more challenging. It’s easy to just click parts together in the Vehicle Assembly Building or the Spaceplane Hanger. The difficult part is breaking the design up into modular pieces. I had to ensure that the pieces could been lifted into orbit independently, had appropriate connection points for construction, and didn’t make a rocket overwhelmingly unwieldy.

Shelly Skycrane w/ Hab Module LandedIn parallel, I worked on designs for two construction vehicles: a skycrane and a crawler. The skycrane lifts modules from orbit to the surface. The crawler moves modules into the required positions on the ground.

The crawler design was straightforward. I needed something low and flat that could fit underneath my modules to attach. Modules need just enough clearance for the crawler and then the docking modules would lock them together. The modules permanent landing legs serve double purpose as a jack. When the legs are retracted the entire piece settles onto the wheels on the ground and can be driven into correct position. When the legs are deployed, the docking port just barely clears the port on the crawler. I experimented with various wheel configurations. I used different wheel types and placements to make standard, high- and low-riding crawlers. I even designed a crawler using Infernal Robotics that allowed for a form of variable clearance. In the end the small mid-range crawler functioned most consistently– but introduced the requirement that all the base modules must have almost exactly the same clearance underneath. That affected the overall base design.

Shelley Skycrane w/ Connection Tube on Descent 1The skycrane design was more complicated. I knew rough dimensions required for the skycrane’s engines to clear the expected cargo. I estimated my requirements to include safely landing 15-25 metric tons of cargo from orbit, return to orbit and rendezvous with orbital spacecraft. How to find the proper balance of thrust, loaded weight, unloaded weight, control and fuel reserves to handle the specific tasks? I anticipated staging a fuel depot in orbit to allow for multiple surface trips; it was the capacity testing that was challenging. The intended sphere of operation was Minmus orbit. My testing grounds were on Kerbin. Minmus has no atmosphere and minimal gravity (0.05g). Light engines with low-thrust and high-ISP engines are ideal. Except those don’t work well at all on Kerbin. Kerbin’s gravity is twenty times greater than Minmus. Kerbin also has a thick atmosphere. A skycrane that tests successfully on Kerbin will be considerably over-powered for Minmus operations.

I could always boost various designs to Minmus and test each one there. I rejected that approach. Too slow; too expensive. Too wasteful. Instead I mocked up a rough design, flew it on Kerbin and revised it a number of times– checking my current capabilities against what I anticipated on Minmus. Kerbal Engineer was particular useful for calculating available delta-V and thrust-to-weight ratios for various designs. The result was a practical, if somewhat overpowered skycrane. It carries far more fuel than it needs, and not enough RCS monopropellant for my liking. But it’s close enough, and capable of operating on Minmus and I hope the Mun and Ike.

With these constraints in mind, I finally completed an acceptable base design. It included a central control tower, a huge communications mast, a science laboratory, a habitation module, and a giant nuclear reactor to power it all. I laid it all out in the Spaceplane hanger, then cut it apart into modular pieces and reconstructed it on the green space beside the KSC runway. A bit of tinkering with parts placement and a lot of learning how to drive a little tractor with tons of moonbase strapped to the roof and only a few unfortunate accidents before I felt I was ready. Patience, always patience. Patience is key. All of this took over two weeks of serious gameplay.

Minmus Orbital Fuel Depot 3
So I had my two construction vehicles. I had my basic base modules. Time to put some stuff in orbit! All of the vehicles are robots; no kerbals. The crawler, the skycrane, the orbital fuel depot and all the booster rockets were designed to be remotely operated. Earlier this year I had completed my RemoteTech communications network around Kerbin, the Mun and Minmus. I was able to leverage that infrastructure for almost the entire construction project. Once I had the major pieces in place and connected, I planned to deliver some enterprising kerbonauts to turn the lights on and put on some of the finishing touches.

The orbital fuel depot went up quickly: two major fuel tank sections connected end-to-end, and then a cluster of RCS fuel tanks around the center spine. The RCS fuel tanks provided a variety of docking ports as well as a bit of separation from the central spine and any vehicles that might rendezvous with the depot. About this time is when I learned a valuable lesson about large construction projects. I was individually boosting each module from Kerbin directly to Minmus orbit. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to boost all the components to Kerbin orbit, connect them together in a temporary configuration for the trans-Minmus injection. Once the collection was safely in Minmus orbit, I could disassemble each piece and lift them down to the surface. With the exception of disassembly, that’s exactly how I’d moved Keats Station around the solar system– first from Kerbin to Minmus orbit, and then to Duna and finally to Ike.

Shelley Skycrane w/ Connection Tube on Descent 1But I didn’t. I also began to see the value of SSTO lifters like the Space Shuttle program. A reusable low-Kerbin orbit vehicle would have significantly reduced the launch costs. I just have not had much luck flying SSTO vehicles. So I continued to employ my fleet of single-use boosters built with the beautiful parts in KW Rocketry.

The Phase 1 launches, in sequence:

  1. Base Tower
  2. 4x Connection Tube Cluster
  3. 2x Base Crawler Cluster
  4. Communications Mast
  5. Science Module
  6. Hab Module

The communications mast included a small amount of solar panels and sufficient batteries to power the station through the night. This allowed for the first kerbonauts to descend with the Hab in launch 6 and board the station.

Shelley Base w/ ISRU Modules Installed 1
Phase 2 of the station construction comprised of the delivery of the powerful fission reactor from Near Future Electrical, and appropriate radiator fins. Additional kerbonaut engineers descended with the reactor and oversaw its connection to the station. Connection tubes set the reactor far from the Hab on the opposite side of the communications mast.

The reactor is a prerequisite for Phase 3: ISRU. The reactor provides ample power for the science laboratory and deep space communication antennas on the mast, as well as sufficient power to sustain twin ISRU converters. These two converters were lifted down from orbit and carefully– oh very carefully– installed on branches from the reactor.

Shelley Base Fuel Module Skycrane RendezvousThe final phase, Phase 4, was the delivery of the Minmus mining truck and a huge fuel tank to store the output of the ISRU converters. With support of SCANsat satellites, the mining truck is able to explore the surface of Minmus, mine for resources and truck them back to the base for conversion into rocket fuel and monopropellant. The base can support four mining or tanker trucks and two fuel tanks, but is now a complete extraplanetary outpost.

Between each phase kerbonaut engineers removed unnecessary parts using Kerbal Inventory System (KIS) and Kerbal Attachment System (KAS). I did this for technical and aesthetic reasons. I wanted to keep the part count on my base low. Game performance decreases as part counts increase. Aesthetically I wanted to remove single-use docking ports and legs once pieces were connected in their final configuration. I’d never worked with KIS/KAS before. They’re very powerful mods, and the sort of functionality that I would love to see in the base game.

I kept a rough journal of the amount of time I’d spent working on each phase of this construction. Pre-planning, base design and construction vehicle experimentation totaled about 50 hours of gameplay over two weeks– not counting all the time I’d spent building the RemoteTech communication satellite network, or practicing the various orbital construction maneuvers.

Shelley Base at Night 1
Phase 1 took about eight hours over three nights. I thought delivering the reactor in Phase 2 would be simple. It was just one piece, but designing a booster for that payload took some time, and then I forgot to include an antennae and lost radio contact during the Minmus transfer. And then the first time I fired up the reactor, I forgot to deploy the radiators and the reactor overheated and exploded while I was working on delivering the ISRU converters in Phase 3. So, about six more hours and two more nights. By the time Phase 3 began, part count was growing and causing some game instability. It took ten more hours over four more days to get those converters attached. Designing them on the fly after I had decommissioned the Kerbinside model to save on part count didn’t help matters.

Abort, retry, fail.

Similar problems plagued Phase 4, compounded by designing a light booster that had to contend with a huge drag force on the nose. Eight more hours, at least. So, altogether eighty- to eighty-five hours over the course of at least a month.

Immensely satisfying.

Burroughs 4 Before Lander Separation
I’ve been thinking about several exciting developments in spaceflight recently as I tend to my own nascent Kerbal Space Program— some of the real world highlights, a few notable anniversaries and one catastrophic failure. While spaceflight has been with us for decades, I’ve been playing this game for about a year and a half and it is as enjoyable now as it was when I first started. On April 27th the game finally came out of beta. With a couple quick patch updates following, KSP is mature to a significant degree. Here are some of the actual news items I’ve been thinking about while playing.

New Horizons arrived at Pluto: sent back extraordinary images and an incredible amount of new data about the dwarf planet. This completed the set of high definition images of all of the planets in the grand tour.

Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Returns View of Sunlit Earth : The last time NASA released a full image of the Earth from space the year was 1972 and the photo, snapped by the Apollo 17 astronauts, was called the “Blue Marble.” Today we have this.

Kepler Mission Discovered Exoplanet Kepler-452b: It is the closest match of any exoplanets found so far to our Earth-sun system. Kepler-452b is the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone”– the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet– of a G2-type star, like our sun.

50th Anniversary of the Mariner 4 Flyby of Mars: On July 15, 1965, after an eight-month voyage, Mariner 4 performed the first flyby of Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to take close-up photographs of another planet.

40th Anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission: On July 16, 1975 two Russian cosmonauts and three American astronauts met in orbit on the Apollo-Soyuz mission. In spite of the political cold war that encompassed world politics, this mission began an era of international cooperation in space that continues today with the International Space Station and its inclusion of NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA.

46th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing: The Apollo missions blazed a path for human space exploration. In hindsight it may appear unfortunate that NASA was conceived in the midst of what was essentially an arms race; the consequence of which was an organization that was fundamentally unsustainable once the goal was achieved. To survive, NASA has had to transform itself– slowly– into something else. Nonetheless, this consummate achievement of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth cannot be underestimated. Today, Mars beckons.

Falcon 9 Resupply Mission Failure: Falcon 9 disintegrated minutes after launch resulting in a total loss. The unmanned Falcon 9 was carrying cargo intended to resupply the International Space Station. This marked the first primary mission failure for Falcon 9, following 17 fully successful launches.

Whirl and Princess and Farmboy and just about anyone who will listen to me has heard me go on about this game. I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment playing a video game as I have with KSP. I attribute that to the the unstructured nature of the game combined with the true difficulty of space flight. I decide I want to do something. “Let’s put Jebediah on Duna [the Mars analog] and get him back to Kerbin [the Earth analog],” I tell myself. Then I have to figure out the rocket science to make that happen. It’s not easy. And this is a game! I find it incredibly rewarding when I succeed.

So this post is me discussing a few of my accomplishments, showing off a few screenshots and just blathering about KSP.

Kerbal Space Program Missions: Completed

Minmus Station
Minmus Station : Science Station On Minmus: When KSP was released at 1.0, I decided to start a new game in Career Mode. I had the basics of orbital mechanics worked out. In sandbox mode, I could reliably get to the two Kerbin moons and back. I understood how to collect science to unlock technology in the tech tree. I’d done all that before, but I had not played using the contracts and economic systems Squad had added to Career Mode. Nor had I experimented with the experience system or specializations added to the game in version 0.90. All of those are integral to Career Mode. Minmus Station was my first major contract fulfilled: I had to collect science from a permanent station on the surface of Minmus. The station needed to support five Kerbonauts. This is my design. I got it there and managed to land it in one piece. It does not fly well. At all. I originally planned to hop around to various locations on the moon to explore but quickly abandoned that idea on descent. The good news is, I collected a lot of valuable science. The bad news is, I’ve stranded several Kerbals on the moon for quite a long time. I should probably do something about that.

Eve Surface Explorer Aerobraking
Eve Surface Explorer : Extraplanetary Probe Exploration: After the moons, the next major target was to put a probe on the surface or another planet. Initial development of the Burroughs program was underway– I was experimenting with lander designs– and I knew there were a few techniques I would need to perfect if I were to make that mission successful. I would need to complete an interplanetary transfer. I would need to work out having a two-vehicle design: an orbiter and a lander. And I would need to use aerobraking from interplanetary orbit. Additionally, I needed to do these things cheaply. I was running in Career Mode. I did not have a limitless budget. So I decided to build a small probe to fly to Eve, the Venus analog. It worked. I used ion thrusters on my vehicle due to the very high fuel efficiency. The trade-off was needing to complete an hour long burn for Eve capture once I arrived. Patience paid off. The entire mission was successful from the first attempt.

Burroughs 4 : Manned Mission to Duna and Return: This was my next major science mission. In short, the Burroughs program is a combination of the manned missions to the nearby moons with the Eve Surface Explorer program. Time to get my ass to Mars! Err, I mean Duna.

Burroughs 4 Command Module Burns to LDO (Low Duna Orbit)I decided to try a mission profile based on NASA’s Apollo program. I built a single booster that would carry three kerbonauts and two vehicles to orbit. One vehicle would be the service module: it would perform the trans-Duna injection, Duna capture and Kerbin return maneuvers.

Burroughs 4 Lander Descent 2The second vehicle would be a smaller two-man lander module that would descend to the Duna surface and ascend again to rendezvous with the service module in Duna orbit. I constructed the various vehicles individually and then assembled them in one big rocket. Like the actual Apollo mission, the transfer vehicle detached from the booster, rotated around to dock with the lander and removed the lander from its fairing once in orbit.

Burroughs 4 Lander Descent 4What complicated things was that Duna, like Mars, has a thin atmosphere. This was useful, in that it allowed for aerobraking and parachutes to assist the descent to the surface. But it also meant I needed to include a heat shield and a powerful ascent stage for my lander, or my kerbals would never make it home.

Burroughs 4 Landing Site
Burroughs 4 was the successful mission. There were three previous Burroughs missions that were less successful. Burroughs 1 missed Duna entirely on the trans-Duna orbit insertion burn. My kerbals were left drifting helplessly around the sun forever. The lander on Burroughs 2 burned up on Duna descent, killing the two aboard. Burroughs 3 made it to the surface of Duna just fine, but did not have enough delta-V to return to orbit and rendezvous with the transfer vehicle. It crashed into the Duna highlands, again killing the two kerbals aboard. Unlike the real world, I could simply reset the game from a save point and start again, but the lesson is very tangible: do not hire me to fly you to Mars. Your odds of survival are, at best, five in twelve.

Keats Station in Orbit Around Minmus
Keats Station : Orbital Construction, Science, ISRU: I named this station after the Romantic poet John Keats. It was my first attempt at a large-scale space station constructed in orbit over multiple launches. I had experimented with simple one-piece stations, where I built it all on the ground and then attached large enough boosters to get the entire station into orbit in one go. I wanted to do something bigger than that. I could easily see how to double the size of my station– just do what I had done before and dock them together nose-to-nose. That just seemed like cheating. Keats was my attempt to build a station that would serve multiple functions as well as teach me orbital construction techniques.

The station is comprised of eleven sections:

  • 1 Station Core
  • 1 Communications Module
  • 1 ISRU Module
  • 1 Science Module
  • 4 Solar Panel Masts
  • 2 Habitation Modules
  • 1 Thruster Module

Each section was launched separately and connected together in orbit using a small tug craft. The tug consisted of two docking ports on a probe core, a big reaction wheel, some solar panels and lots of RCS fuel and thrusters.

Keats Station supports up to twelve kerbals. The ISRU Converter can convert ore and electricity into liquid fuel, oxidizer, or monopropellant– this is a critical piece of real-world technology for most manned missions to Mars. The Mars Direct proposal depends on ISRU. So of course I wanted to include it somewhere. The Mobile Processing Lab has the capability to process data obtained from experiments for science. Any decent space station has a big lab! The communications module allows for interplanetary transmissions and includes a survey scanner for orbital low resolution resource scanning. The station core contains a huge fuel tank, allowing for refueling operations for other spacecraft.

Prometheus 2 Rendezvous with Keats Station 2
Prometheus Program : Minmus Mining Operations, ISRU w/ Keats Station: A complimentary program to Keats Station, the Prometheus Program comprises the operation of the robotic mining probes. The probes land on Minmus and bring ore to orbit where it is processed on Keats Station into rocket fuel. Through Prometheus I can support refueling depots outside of Kerbin orbit, allowing for bigger and more powerful interplanetary rockets. Get it? The Titan who stole fire from Mt. Olympus? Yeah, okay. Moving on.

Hyperion 2 Moving to Minmus Escape 1
Hyperion Program : Kerbin-LKO-Mun-Minmus Ferry: Once construction of Keats was completed, I needed a way to shuttle crew to and from the station. I have not had particularly good success with building spaceplanes in KSP, so my method is closer to the Soviet Soyuz or SpaceX Dragon V2 model, partially reusable two-stage spacecraft designed for bringing personnel and supplies to and from various orbits in the Kerbin-Mun-Minmus system. Hyperion 1 brought the initial two members of the Keats Station crew from Kerbal Space Center, however the craft and pilot were lost on the return to Kerbin– the parachutes aboard Hyperion 1 were insufficient to slow the descent from orbit; the pilot and craft was lost at sea. Still want me to fly you to space? The craft was redesigned to address this flaw and Hyperion 2 has successfully ferried the rest of the crew to Keats.  Hyperion 2 proved capable of ferrying crew from Kerbin to the station at LKO and back. Midway through the Hyperion Program, Keats Station was elevated from LKO to Minmus orbit and Hyperion 5 assumed the duties of ferrying crew and supplies.

Whitman 3 Deployed in Orbit Around Dres 2Whitman Program : Altimetry and Biome Scanning Satellites: Whitman 3 is a research satellite deployed around the dwarf planet, Dres. I included two new mods into my game: SCANsat and Infernal Robotics. Those mods defined the project. SCANsat supplied the RADAR altimetry and multispectral biome scanners. I used Infernal Robotics to create a compact launch design that expanded once achieving orbit. I like the dramatic presentation of the design. I planned to launch several of them to explore the major planetary bodies, including Moho and Eeloo. However the amount of fussing over electric capacity, scanner and solar panel orientation doomed the project. It was promptly canceled. Whitman 1 and 2 never saw the launch pad. No one hears your barbaric yawp when you sound it over the roofs of space.

Complete Kerbin-Mun-Minmus Communication Network
Kerbin-Mun-Minmus Communications Network : RemoteTech is one of my favorite mods to KSP. It overhauls unmanned spaceflight by requiring probes to have a connection to the space center. Without it, unmanned probes cannot be controlled. It’s a great reason to put satellites into orbit, and to be precise about those orbits. Once a network is built, the satellites do work for you– namely, they allow communication among all the craft in flight. RemoteTech provides a variety of dish and omnidirectional directional antennas, enforces line-of-site and signal delay and introduces a flight computer that can be used to schedule actions ahead of time to carry out basic tasks during a communications gap. It raises the degree of difficulty, and discipline is rewarded.

At my work, I build computer networks. Many of the criteria I use at work, I can apply here. They’re both networks. The satellites serve as routers. They’re just always moving. I built my first communications network very quickly. Just putting things together and putting them up there to get familiar with the mod and the process. Once I had that down, I set out in earnest to build KerCOM 2.

A lot of practical information had to be deduced to make this work. I needed to ensure that my satellites had enough battery capacity and solar power to power themselves and all their antennas through a complete orbit. I couldn’t have communications gaps caused by satellites going down for lack of power. I needed to determine geostationary orbit. I had to design a delivery vehicle, and a procedure for bootstrapping the system before it was fully in place. I couldn’t rely on the existence of my communication network to control the probes; that’s what I was building.

KerCOM 2D Decouple
The KerCOM 2 Network Deployment Vehicle carried six communications satellites to geostationary orbit directly above Kerbal Space Center. It was built using the mods RemoteTech, KW Rocketry and
Near Future Technologies. RemoteTech’s inclusion is obvious. I included the other mods for mostly cosmetic reasons. The vehicle could easily be adapted using stock parts. I used KW Rocketry because I love the look of the tanks and engines, and I used Near Future Technologies for the extended probe batteries, the structural platform on the deployment vehicle and the cool-looking circular solar panels.

KerCOM 2FThe orbit was modified to a 5/6s resonant orbit– meaning I dropped perigee to a point where the orbital period was only 5/6s the duration of true geo-stationary. I launched one satellite at apogee of each sequential orbit over the next six orbits. Each satellite immediately circularized its orbit and established a full communications network above Kerbin. When I was through, I had a six-node network that provided nearly complete satellite coverage of Kerbin using omnidirectional antenna. I designed each satellite with two additional directional dish antennas, one aimed at Mun and the other at Minmus– uplinks for additional networks to be deployed around each moon.

MunCOM 1 Deployment Vehicle at Mun Capture [3/3]MunCOM 1 repeated a similar process around Mun, except I only required a four-node network due to the moon’s smaller size. So I repurposed the last two sattelites. I boosted the delivery vehicle from Mun to Minmus. The two remaining satellites joined Keats Station and formed a three-node network around Minmus.

Atlantis 1 Port Truss Boom [2/3]
Atlantis 1 : Jool System Exploration Platform: My second attempt at large-scale orbital construction had a number of inspirations– Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hermes from The Martian and the International Space Station. Like the Hermes, Atlantis 1 uses a nuclear-powered VASMIR engine for a low-thrust, high specific impulse design. Long, slow burns give it a tremendous amount of delta-V, at a significant increase in complexity. The modular design is based roughly on the current configuration of the ISS– minus the giant VASMIR– with a science module, a huge communication module and a structural truss with two huge solar panel booms. Atlantis 1 has capacity for seventeen kerbals and enough delta-V to achieve orbit around Jool or any of its moons.

Atlantis 1 Core + Engine [2/3]It took me two days to arrive at the design. It is comprised of seven sections, launched separately and constructed in orbit with the use of a small tug craft :

  • 1 Station Core
  • 1 Engine Module (VASMIR, Argon Tank, Nuclear Reactor)
  • 1 Science Module
  • 1 Communications Module
  • 1 Truss Mast
  • 2 Solar Truss Booms

I used a number of mods to achieve the particular look and design: most of the station parts came from Near Future Technologies and Stockalike Station Parts Expansion. I continued to use RemoteTech and SCANsat for functional components. I want to establish Atlantis 1 as a remote command station, a feature where a manned vehicle can be used to provide remote control of probes without the requirement of reaching all the way back to KSC. The last two mods I included primarily for the particular look they give the game and some of the rockets. They are KW Rocketry and Distant Object Enhancement.

Odysseus 2 Docked with Atlantis 1After completing Atlantis 1, I designed two support craft. Poseidon 1 is a small two-man lander that also uses an argon ion thruster. It has sufficient thrust to land and depart from Minmus and the smaller moons of Jool. As a shake-down mission, I launched Poseidon 1 from KSC to Minmus orbit and landed in the midlands. Poseidon 1 continued on to rendezvous with Keats Station, and exchanged crew. Jebediah and Bill Kerman boarded Poseidon and ferried down to Atlantis 1 in medium Kerbin orbit. Once aboard, Jeb and Bill tested the nuclear reactor and VASMIR engine by firing them up and pushing the ship to high Kerbin orbit above the Van Allen belt.

Poseidon 1 Over MinmusThe Hyperion program proved inadequate to deliver the number of kerbonauts needed to supply a full crew to Atlantis 1. I designed a new crew delivery vehicle to support the large complement aboard the interplanetary flagship. Odysseus 2 is capable of bringing nine kerbonauts above geosynchronous orbit and return them to Kerbin. It delivered the remainder of the crew in two successful launches. Odysseus 1 is a complimentary unmanned supply ship that can deliver argon and monopropellant beyond Minmus orbit.

Atlantis 1 [7/7]

Kerbal Space Program Missions: Planned

With all of that completed, I’ve been thinking about what missions to do next. As soon as I complete one thing, a number of other options present themselves. That’s one of the many reasons I love this game. Here are some obvious ones.

Minmus Station Rescue : I need to launch some sort of vehicle to rescue all those kerbals I’ve stranded on Minmus. They’ve been there for years. I bet they’d like to get a shower and a beer.

Deep Space Communication Network : I am going to need some larger satellites in Kerbin orbit to communicate with probes and systems beyond Duna and Dres. So a mission to supplement the existing communications network is in order. Additionally, I’m going to need to do some corrective maneuvering to get some of the satellites back in position. They’ve drifted from station over time.

Atlantis 1 Burns to High Kerbin Orbit
Poseidon Program : Atlantis 1 Jool System Exploration : This is the big one. I’m ready to transfer Atlantis 1 to the gas giant Jool and establish a long-term exploration program. Atlantis is functioning well. The Poseidon 1 lander has successfully landed and ascended from Minmus, proving capable of doing the same on Pol and Bop. Additionally setting up a remote command station for the Jool system would allow for further automated exploration of the many moons and Jool itself. I also intend to park Atlantis in an inclined orbit around the inner moon of Laythe and initiate a thorough altimetry and biome mapping.

Epimetheus Project : This is the second generation of the Prometheus program. It will involve the relocation of Keats Station to Duna orbit, the establishment of Duna-Ike comsat network, mining operations on Duna’s moon, Ike, with ISRU at Keats Station.

That’s plenty to keep me busy for the rest of the summer, I’m sure. And by that time, I suspect something else will appeal to me and I’ll be off on another interplanetary adventure.

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.

The Martian, Andy Weir This is how I was introduced to The Martian by Andy Weir. Mooch asked, “Remember that scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers get together and have to figure out how to fit the square pegs into the round holes or everyone will die?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s The Martian. That scene. For the whole book. On Mars.”

I’m a sucker for stories about Mars.

The novel follows NASA engineer and biologist, Mark Watney, after he becomes stranded early in the Ares 3 mission, the third of five manned missions to the red planet. What follows afterwards a series of unfortunate events– each one requiring ingenuity and creativity to resolve. And not a small amount of 70s nostalgia. They’re not simple problems. This is rocket science we’re talking about.

It’s a quick read, and most of the science is real. Robert Zubrin detailed a plan for manned exploration of Mars almost twenty years ago: the Mars Direct proposal. Weir borrowed heavily from this proposal. Not too far-future science fiction allowed for his inclusion of the constant-thrust, nuclear-powered VASMIR rocket for the Mars transfer orbit. “Not some boring Hohmann Transfer, either!”, Weir wrote for Salon about the novel and about how science shaped his writing.

I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to com­municate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days.

If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water re­claimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

So yeah. I’m fucked.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for stories about Mars.

Missoula, Jon KrakauerA series of sexual assaults between 2010 and 2012 in Missoula, Montana is the subject of the latest book from Jon Krakauer, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. This is not an easy read. This is not an inspirational story. Instead, Missoula is an incisive and unblinking investigation into the crime of rape. It also serves an indictment to the adversarial structure of our modern day legal system. Krakauer painstakingly exposes and invalidates the myths that surround rape.

“Krakauer’s investigation will succeed in altering the conversation around sexual violence.” —Los Angeles Times

In May, Krakauer appeared in front of a capacity crowd at the Missoula Doubletree Hotel to defend his book. Outside magazine reports, “Krakauer may have expected a tide of detractors, but the audience gave him a standing ovation when he was introduced.”

Maybe the detractors did not show up at his speaking engagement, but they are out there. And they, too, have powerful allies and publishers. I’ll single out one passage from Emily Bazelon in her review for The New York Times. Concerning the case involving UM star quarterback Jordan Johnson and woman whom Krakauer gives the pseudonym Cecilia Washburn, Bazelon opines, “Krakauer doesn’t seem to have spoken to Johnson or Washburn. (In an author’s note, he says he tried to interview the victims and accused men whose cases he covered.) And it’s not clear that he spoke to any prosecutors or police officers in Missoula, or to university officials. As a result, the book feels one-sided. It also lacks texture.”

Bazelon either missed the book’s preface where Krakauer lays out his methodology, or she is being intentionally obtuse– to what end, I can’t imagine. Access to information is one of the very elements that makes rape difficult to discuss. He spent two years meticulously researching what transpired in this town. That much is obvious. And Krakauer does not attempt to be unbiased; this book is a defense of rape victims. Krakauer attempts to be honest. It’s a distinction between the principles of objectivity and accuracy. A line that he argues gets muddled and often disregarded, and by so doing fosters a culture that enables rapists to walk free. Krakauer goes to great lengths to discuss his methodology and precisely what he means when he places words in quotations. Quotations mean someone said it and in most cases, they wrote it. Krakauer’s extensive bibliography supports those claims.

What results from this research is some of the most compelling writing Krakauer has ever produced.

It’s been six months since I last wrote anything about my health. I wrote about starting a low-carb diet and the various techniques I’d developed in the first three months of that process. It’s time for an update. First, the numbers: I’ve lost forty-two pounds since mid-June 2014 when I started consciously eating low-carb. That’s eighteen additional pounds since my September update. I achieved that weight loss in early December.

And then winter came. And Christmas with its cookies and pies and delicious mashed potatos. And then the trip to New Orleans. I didn’t stick very closely to my plan through the latter half of December and all of January. So I added about eight pounds back over that period. When we got back from New Orleans I went back to the process that had worked before and the additional weight all melted off by the end of February. That’s what I expected would happen, and it did.

Before I spend another 150 words describing what has happened over the past two years, look at this graph. The blue line is day-to-day weight, the red is a 30-day average.

Weightloss Timeline :: 2013-2015

If I look back at where I was two years ago in early 2013 in the height of my “eat less; move more” days. Well, I’ve lost a total of sixty pounds since then. Before the New Orleans trip, I went clothes shopping. This is not something I do often, but friends and colleagues had commented– more than once– that my clothes were not fitting well. I took some Christmas money and purchased a new winter coat, some long-johns, some nice shirts and new jeans. That’s when my eyes were truly opened as to what was happening with me.

My first problem was that my winter coat was way too big. So big that it was not particularly good at keeping me warm. It had served me very well for over a decade of Chicago winters, so when I replaced it with something else, something smaller, I didn’t feel guilty. Then I could not find shirts that didn’t billow like sails luffing in the wind. I went to a number of stores, got myself measured, tried things on, and several times I just awkwardly, apologetically ended up walking out with nothing in hand.

This was after Christmas and all the clothing stores on State Street were having some fantastic sales on men’s clothes: deals like 75% off or “buy one shirt or suit, get two free”. I eventually started looking at sizes and styles I had not originally considered: men’s slim fit and trim fit shirts. They fit. I was shocked. I bought a bunch. Why not? They were on sale 75% off.

Then came the jeans. Again, I was astonished. I knew I needed a smaller size, because they were bunching up when I did up the belt. What I didn’t expect was to go from a Levis 42×30 in 2013 to a 34×30 in January for the exact same style. But that’s what happened. I tried on the 36x30s. And then, emboldened by my shirt success, pulled down a pair of 34s. Just to see.

They fit. They fit very well.

This wasn’t just water weight I was losing. This wasn’t a trick. I lost mass. I lost volume. I feel better than I have felt in a decade. I still have a little ways to go. I’d like to lose another eight to twelve pounds and go down one more size in jeans to a 32. I think that goal is very much within reach.

What has continued to be astonishing to me is this feeling that the change came about not through some particularly brutal reworking of my life. I haven’t obsessed about every little thing I’m consuming. I’ve been conscious of the carb count, and disciplined about getting regular strenuous exercise. I swam over 275 miles in 2014, even with the loss of my Masters team. I’m on track to do the same in 2015. I walk to and from work every day, and that gives me another thirty minutes of activity.

Whirl and I have discovered a large number of really delicious low-carb recipes, and we continue to add more on a regular basis. It’s been a wonderful change for me, something I’ve worked on– unsuccessfully– for more than a decade. And now, nine months in, I’m starting to really see the benefits.

Madame Lily Devalier always asked “Where are you?” in a way that insinuated that there were only two places on earth one could be: New Orleans and somewhere ridiculous. — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis 4

One of my first memories of New Orleans is reading the Tom Robbins novel, Jitterbug Perfume— but ‘memory’ is not the right word. Maybe ‘encounter’ is better. Or ‘introduction’. Considering that I’m talking about a Robbins novel about immortality, Pan and perfume, I’m tempted to use ‘preface’, ‘prologue’ or ‘preamble’. Robbins took me through the streets of New Orleans accompanied by a mysterious Jamaican beet salesman and his helmet of swarming bees. His name was Bingo Pajama. And ever since reading that book, I’ve wanted to visit this enchanting city.

Thirty years later, we did. 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of my brain injury and this year I made up my mind against returning to Las Vegas. I wanted to travel someplace new, some place I had never seen before. After considering a number of possible new destinations– including some overseas– we narrowed the field of possible destinations to the Florida Keys and New Orleans. I decided for New Orleans. I’m so very glad that I did. We had a fantastic time.

Once more, Farmboy and Princess joined Whirl and me for the trip. We stayed at the historic Roosevelt Hotel. Originally built in 1893 as the Hotel Grunewald, the hotel has seen a great deal of New Orleans’ history. The Grunewald was sold in 1923. New owners renamed it the Roosevelt Hotel in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s efforts building the Panama Canal had tremendous financial benefits for the city. In 2005, the hotel was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and closed indefinitely. During the closure, the hotel was sold, underwent complete renovations and modernizations. Much of the public areas– notably the lobby and the Sazerac Bar– were restored to the look of grand days of the hotel in the 30s and 40s. The Roosevelt Hotel reopened in 2009.

We began by listing things we wanted to see. We talked to friends and relatives for suggestions. Whirl works with a museum curator who is a New Orleans native. Through that contact, we received an extensive summary and advice. It was a start. By the end of a week or so the list had grown. By the time we landed in Louisiana, it looked something like this:

FOOD AND DRINK

  • Acme Oyster House
  • Antoine’s
  • Bennachin
  • Brennan’s
  • Broussard’s
  • Cafe Du Monde
  • Central Grocery and Deli
  • Clancy’s
  • Commander’s Palace
  • Domenica
  • Emeril’s
  • Fiorella’s Cafe
  • Galatoire’s
  • Gumbo Shop
  • Jacques-Imo’s Café
  • PJ’s Coffee
  • Parkway Bakery & Tavern
  • Sazerac Bar
  • Slim Goodies Diner
  • Verti Marte
  • Wink’s Buttermilk Drop Bakery

CULTURE

  • Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
  • Audubon Park
  • Backstreet Cultural Museum
  • Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
  • Buckner Mansion
  • Crescent City Books
  • French Market
  • French Quarter
  • Garden District
  • Pearl River Eco-Tours
  • Holt Cemetery
  • Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church
  • Jackson Square
  • Krewe du Vieux
  • Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
  • Langlois Culinary Crossroads
  • Leonidas
  • Magazine Street
  • Maple Leaf Bar
  • Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo
  • Ogden Museum of Southern Art
  • St. Charles Street Car
  • St. Louis Cathedral
  • St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
  • The Moon Walk

MUSIC

  • Blue Nile
  • Frenchmen Street
  • Hi-Ho Lounge
  • Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
  • Preservation Hall
  • Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro
  • d.b.a.

ACCOMMODATIONS

  • The Roosevelt Hotel

Twenty-one restaurants. Twenty-five cultural attractions. Seven music venues. One hotel. Four nights. Five days. It was pretty obvious we weren’t going to get to everything on the list. And we didn’t. But we did manage to do quite a bit while we were there and came away from the trip thinking we’d really managed to see something of the city.

Buckner Mansion 2

While it had been our intention to visit some venues for music, we never did quite make that work exactly that way. But what I can say is that music– live music– was everywhere. From the street musicians in the French Quarter, to different two- and three-piece bands in the hotel lounge every night to the piano player to the jazz three-piece at Commander’s Palace during brunch. Music was everywhere you went. And as much as I would have liked to seek it out explicitly, it still found me.

We arrived mid-morning on Wednesday to clear skies. It was apparent looking out the window that we were somewhere new. Even in winter, with much of the greenery gone, this was a different place. I thought maybe I had seen the Mississippi snaking along. I was wrong. It was one of any number of rivers and streams flowing through the area. We were out of the airport and quickly on our way to the Roosevelt. Checked in and looking for lunch. Off to the French Quarter.

While the hotel is not directly in the French Quarter, it is only a block away on the south side of Canal Street. We found New Orleans quite walkable. So we walked into the quarter looking for The Gumbo Shop— and right into Bourbon Street cliché. For the six blocks we walked along, I felt that perhaps we had made a horrible mistake in coming here. This was kitch and commercialism and no more interesting than any tired bar with dollar shots and tight t-shirts. Then we turned onto St. Peter Street and into a period film production underway outside Preservation Hall. A half block away from Bourbon and the entire vibe changed. It was a whole different place. And it was fantastic.

Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis 3The Gumbo Shop served as our entry into what became really an eating tour of New Orleans. I mentioned that we did a lot while we were here but we ate even more. And every meal was fantastic, starting with this one and the one immediately after. Coincidental to our trip, Princess’ parents were in town for a conference and had made arrangements for the six of us to have dinner at Clancy’s that evening. So with that in mind, we took the remaining couple hours of the afternoon to explore. We headed down St. Peter Street, took a left and discovered rows of fortune tellers and artists lined up. Whirl went to have her tarot read. Princess joined her. I turned around and suddenly realized I was standing in Jackson Square right in front of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France. That’s right. Sober, and with a belly full of gumbo I’d bumbled into the one Crescent City location I absolutely wanted to see– and I’d done it on accident.

While Whirl had her cards read, Farmboy and I went inside, and then wandered around Pirate and Pere Antoine Alleys beside the cathedral, eventually making our way across Decatur to the overlook of the river and the square. Princess and Whirl caught up with us after a while and we set back across the quarter exploring the shops along the way. I made a note of Cafe Du Monde for café au lait, beignets. For later.

Clancy’s with Princess’ parents meant more fantastic food and wine (baby drum with muddy waters sauce and shrimp, sweetbreads, bread pudding) after a long, slow cab ride from the hotel to the Audubon neighborhood. Our driver took us down St. Charles Avenue and we spent most of the trip admiring the antebellum mansions. We returned the next day, this time on the St. Charles streetcar to visit Magazine Street, take a guided tour of the Garden District before continuing on to the Carrollton Historic District for afternoon drinks at the Maple Leaf Bar and another fantastic dinner at Jacques-Imo’s (paneed rabbit with shrimp and tasso pasta, alligator cheesecake, fried boudin balls).

We wrapped up the evening with cocktails at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt. The four of us spent a couple hours talking with Andy, Andrew and Benji behind the bar. They made many delicious cocktails and capped off a great anniversary day with a flourish. Returning the Sazerac to its 1940s glory was one of the goals of the post-Katrina restoration work done on the hotel. Art deco decor, huge African walnut bar and the associated theater of serving absinthe.

Pearl River Swamp 3Friday morning came early. We booked a swamp tour along the Pearl River and the Honey Island Swamp to the north of the city. For hours we slid along among the bones of the swamp– winter had pulled back much of the greenery, revealing the structure of the environment in a way that we would never have seen at other times of the year. And while wildlife was comparatively scarce, we did see herons, kingfishers, egrets, turtles, osprey, wild pigs and a raccoon. Most striking were the artifacts left in the swamp from Katrina. We cruised past shrimp boats from the gulf that had been lifted by the storm for over ten miles to be left, wrecked among the oak and cypress. A small hut still hung up in the branches ten years later.

Lunch was New Orleans staples: the muffaletta sandwich from Central Grocery followed by café au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde for dessert. (Told you we’d be back!) We waddled across the street for a second visit to St. Louis Cathedral before touring the The Presbytère. The Presbytère is part of the Louisiana State Museum and holds two permanent exhibits. “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” documents the disaster, the aftermath and ongoing recovery. “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana” offers a window into the annual celebration rituals of Mardi Gras– parade floats, costumes, and glimpses into the secretive social club society from which modern-day Mardi Gras krewes evolved. Both were powerful, informative exhibits and well worth the time we spent in them, providing context and structure to the act of walking through living history.

When the museum closed, we found ourselves once more on Jackson Square and explored more of the French Quarter on our way back to the hotel. Princess collected at least half a dozen different samples in her attempt to discover the perfect praline. Whirl found some decorations for our kitchen back home. I had a tummy ache. That night was another great dinner. This time at the John Besh restaurant, Dominica in the Roosevelt Hotel (paneed pork chop with paprika aioli & pickled carrots, sweetbreads, roasted cauliflower, gianduja budino). By this point you’re likely detecting a theme. There were a number of bridal parties in the restaurant and we learned from our waiters that it was quite popular to get married in the church across the street and have receptions in the Roosevelt.

Audubon Insectarium 4

Saturday was filled with more culture, starting with a visit to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. This was more than appropriate given the amount of work Whirl does in the Insects department at the Field Museum. Several of her coworkers encouraged her to visit the Insectarium. Once she knew of it, there was no way we were going to miss it. The museum did not disappoint. Fantastic displays and an engaging staff marked this as one of the highlights of the trip. Farmboy commented that this was his very favorite item on the list.

We walked north along the Moon Walk to the bustling French Market. It was mid-afternoon and I wanted to try a French Fry po-boy sandwich. I found one along with some delicious beer, fried pickles and fried chicken at Fiorella’s Cafe. For dessert– and, as it turned out, dinner– buttermilk drops from Wink’s Bakery.

Immaculate Conception Church 7We hustled across the French Quarter to tour the Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church that afternoon. I am so very glad we did. It is one of the most singularly beautiful churches I have ever seen. A volunteer from the parish took us through the building and up into the choir balcony before the afternoon mass. I shot what I could, quickly and quietly, to try and capture the grandeur of the building. It was very clear to me why this church is such a popular wedding location.

You may be asking, “But why did you skip dinner Saturday night?” Simple answer: Krewe du Vieux. The first parade of the Mardi Gras season was Saturday night and we did not want to miss it. I know, the sacrifices we make for satire. Krewe du Vieux is the only krewe allowed to parade through the French Quarter. All floats are small, drawn by hand or mule. All the music is from live bands.

“With its theme ‘Krewe du Vieux Begs for Change,’ the group pondered a city, state and nation wrestling with transitions everywhere. What it found were confusing education mandates (with teachers of dubious moral character), dysfunctional city services, a bankrupting health care system, and legalized gay marriage (’50 States of Gay’) and marijuana (‘Toke of the Town’) sweeping the nation.” —David Lee Simmons

We met Art and Emily at the parade and spent the time before the arrival talking and joking around with them: comparing notes. It was also while we were waiting for the parade to begin that we learned of Winter Storm Linus– our flights back home Sunday night had been canceled. The storm was dumping nineteen inches of snow on the city. All flights into anywhere in the Midwest were grounded for the next twenty-four hours. But by this point in our trip we knew there were much worse places in the world to be stranded. Everyone we met knew it too.

After the parade we retired back to the hotel and tried to contact the airlines to look into alternate flights. That was fruitless. The best we managed was to arrange for a response at some ambiguous time later that evening– two hours or more. So it was back to Sazerac Bar. It was going to be a long night. Airline robots honored their promise and called us back with new travel arrangements. They were diligent calling us every ninety minutes or so starting at about 1:00 AM until 6:30 AM Sunday morning. Made for a good night’s sleep.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 2

We were booked on an early morning flight Monday through Charlotte, NC. Princess and Farmboy were booked on an even earlier flight through Miami. Whirl and I decided to stay put at the Roosevelt. Princess and Farmboy decided to book a room at a hotel by the airport. And with those arrangements made we thought of things to do on our extra day in New Orleans, Superbowl Sunday.

With a bit of “positive mental attitude” the concierge arranged a reservation for the four of us for the Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace. It proved to be the highlight meal of the trip: turtle soup, commander’s salad, cochon de lait eggs Benedict, pecan crusted gulf fish, black angus sirloin and egg, sugarcane & black pepper bacon, buttermilk biscuits, creole bread pudding soufflé, southern style pecan pie. It was delicious. Service was excellent. A three-piece band moved throughout the restaurant playing requests: trumpet, banjo, stand-up bass. After the meal we spent some more time in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 before making our way back down St. Charles Avenue and the hotel.

A brief detour to the casino on Canal and we were spent. Filled, content, happy and sleepy. We said our farewells. Princess and Farmboy headed for the airport hotel. Whirl and I settled into the lounge at the Roosevelt to watch the football game. The hotel had set up a couple televisions in the lounge and a small group of twenty people or so watched it together. By the time the third quarter began, we retired up to our room, watched the exciting finale, packed and turned in. Morning would come early and I was uncertain exactly what to expect for the leg home.

But as it turned out, everything went perfectly. No delays. No complications. We were home from a wonderful, fulfilling– and very filling– trip to the Big Easy.

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson With 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson expanded upon many of the themes presented in his seminal work in the Mars trilogy— one of my all-time favorite science fiction series. Terraforming, longevity, human sexuality, the significance of art: Robinson explores these in detail as well as investigating how all of these developments shape what it means to be human. There are characteristics of the future history in 2312 that appear to just assume the events of the Mars trilogy as history. And as always, the Earth is a mess.

What Robinson adds with this novel are some of the post-cyberpunk themes that remind me of William Gibson and Ian McDonald: artifical intelligence, quantum computing, radical anthropogenic evolution.

Mooch recommended it to me, much as he originally recommended the Mars trilogy to me almost twenty years ago.

Solitary road trips have way of inspiring me to think about things in a way I don’t otherwise. Maybe it’s the monotony of them, the hypnotic hum of the wheels on the roadway or the persistent white noise of the engine. I like to think it’s the isolation of it. If you allow yourself the opportunity, traveling has the way of culling out interruptions. It provides a sort of freedom in the emptiness. Sure, there’s lots of things I can do. I can stare out the windows and watch the world slowly glide by. I can read a book. I can watch a movie. I can play a game. I can work. — And while I enjoy all of these things at various points on a road trip the thing I do most often is to put on headphones and simply listen to music. Sometimes I’ll read or work, too, but more often than not I just listen and allow myself the chance to let my mind wander where it wants.

This past weekend I took the four-hour bus ride from Chicago to visit my grandfather in Peoria. Four hours there, and four hours back. It was a good chunk of time to just be alone with myself and think about nothing in particular. But after a while that unstructured thinking began to take form. A combination of hearing a particular song connected with recalling something my friend, Smokes, had recently said propelled me to start thinking about musical influences. Why do I listen to the music I listen to? Why do I like it? But more curiously, how did I come to find it? The questions crystallized in my mind around a central theme: which albums were most influential upon me?

I always do this, I always spend too much time on the prelude. I think some lengthy explanation is necessary to lead up to a rather basic question. I should work on that. So, please pardon my rambling. I’ll get to the list. Here are the criteria I used for inclusion:

  • Album as a complete work, not just a particular song
  • Direct inspiration for listening to other music
  • Marks a significant milestone in my life
  • Released while I have been alive
  • Purchased with my own money within a year of public release
  • Not necessarily my favorite, the most popular or the most successful album from a particular artist

Here they are in chronological order:

In Through The Out Door, Led Zeppelin (August, 1979). By the time I discovered Led Zeppelin in the fall of 1981, John Bonham had died and the band had broken up. At the time, this was their last album. (Coda wouldn’t be released until 18 months later.) Joan turned me on to them. Early in the school year we became friends. At recess, we would walk around the soccer field and talk. Often about Zork and Led Zeppelin. She made a cassette tape of In Through The Out Door for me to listen to. It opened my eyes to what was possible with rock music– a radical departure from the Eagles and the Beatles and the Beach Boys my dad often played in the house. Later, I bought my own copy of this record because of her and over time I collected much of Zep’s published discography. That, in turn, allowed Queen, Lenny Kravitz, and the Ramones to all enter my collection.

Twelve years later, when I met Whirl for the first time, one of our first conversations was about music. Led Zeppelin was (and still is) one of her favorite bands. If I were ever to write a screenplay of that first meeting in Portland, I’d set it to “Fool In the Rain”.

Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes (March, 1983). Another early record purchased while I was in middle school. While I can’t be sure, I like to think I bought it in the spring the year after the Scorpions came to Pueblo to play the Colorado State Fair. On one of our various trips to Denver, I happened upon KBCO and discovered my new favorite radio station. The first time I heard “Blister in the Sun” was on KBCO. I was hooked. A three-piece band that embodied folk and punk and bitterness and frustration. I think of this album as a rite of passage. I got into it and a whole world of music opened up. For me, it added the Talking Heads, They Might Be Giants, the Psychedelic Furs, the Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven, the Velvet Underground and many many more. Bands I never heard on the local radio but are now intimately connected to growing up.

Hounds of Love, Kate Bush (September, 1985). “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” There’s something magical and intoxicating to me in Kate Bush‘s eclectic blend of styles. At this point I had some steady income from the paper route. I could afford to buy more music. I helped Kate topple Madonna‘s stranglehold at the top of the charts with my purchase of Hounds of Love. It includes classical themes, progressive measure and that startlingly beautiful voice. This album inspired me to chase down nearly every female singer I could find, the more exotic and theatrical the better. And I still do. Artists in my catalog that I directly attribute to discovering Kate Bush: Suzanne Vega, the Eurythmics, 10000 Maniacs, Stevie Nicks, the Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan, Liz Phair, La Roux, Adele, Paramore, Sia, Poe, and Sleigh Bells.

Louder Than Bombs, Smiths (March, 1987). “And if you have five seconds to spare // Then I’ll tell you the story of my life: // Sixteen, clumsy and shy. // That’s the story of my life.” During high school I tried on personalities with about the same frequency of trying on new shirts. It seems like every day was a new attempt to reinvent myself. To be a new person. To try and determine who I was, what I wanted. Morrissey‘s lyric and Johnny Marr‘s guitar combined on this compilation at exactly that moment in my life. And they nailed it for me. I identified with the confusion and the mundanity and the caustic sense of humor. From my interest in the Smiths— and becoming a regular customer at Wax Trax in Denver– I discovered Echo & the Bunnymen, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Church, the Sundays, the Stone Roses, The The and eventually (by way of my time working at WNDY) Elvis Costello, the BoDeans and Billy Bragg. Today it’s the Killers, Phoenix and Foster the People.

Substance 1987, New Order (August, 1987). My high school musical collection was filled with new wave artists. I attribute Substance with being the strongest single influence on that transformation. Radio was dominated by Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Robert Palmer and Madonna. I had Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Alphaville, the Pet Shop Boys and Ultravox. And the album that coalesced all of that together, that best represented that influence upon my musical taste was Substance. The echoes of this influence are still there, as I find myself listening to the Strokes, Fischerspooner, Interpol, Neon Indian and Washed Out. I also think a line can be drawn through from New Order through to electronica and house to Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method all of which enjoy frequent rotation today.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Pink Floyd (September, 1987). My first Pink Floyd memory is not of this album. Bear with me; it’s a good story. Fourth grade. Shortly before Christmas Break. Music class out in a temporary classroom trailer on the playground. Teacher had asked us to bring in music for the rest of the class to experience. Someone brought in their older brother’s brand new copy of The Wall and put on “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”. It starts innocently enough with some drums and a little guitar riff. Add the a bass and some quick lyrics. And then it all goes horribly wrong, straight through a short description of dire domestic abuse into the anthem, “We don’t need no education! // We don’t need no thought control!” We never had music appreciation day again.

It would be several years before I truly fell in love with progressive rock. It happened with A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Fast forward several years from The Wall. Roger Waters has left the band. David Gilmour has taken over and produced this album. My best friend Beau and I are sitting around the kitchen room table after school arguing whether or not it was a true Floyd album without Waters’ involvement. We decide to go buy it and find out. Beau’s tastes in music were often a step ahead of mine. He owned several Floyd albums and was trying to get me interested in the band. This is the album that did it. Three tracks in, and I was hooked. I’ve been grateful ever since. I filled out my Pink Floyd collection, added Yes and Boston and Genesis. Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Bowie. Later there would be Coheed and Cambria, the Verve and XTC. Pink Floyd remains one of my favorite bands to this day.

The Lion and the Cobra, Sinéad O’Connor (November, 1987). From the moment I first watched the video for “Troy” on MTV’s 120 Minutes late at night, I knew I had to have the album. At first opportunity, I drove over to Independent Records on 4th Street and picked it up on cassette. For the next 18 months it rarely left the glove box of the car. This is one of my all-time favorite albums. I’ve seen O’Connor twice in concert, both times at Red Rocks. I’ve heard her (and everyone else) talk about this album, about O’Connor’s life– I’ve watched her blow up on television and in print. I don’t care. I love this album. It’s beautiful and fascinating and powerful. I replaced it on cassette at least twice from stretching it out, and once more when the CD became too scratched to play without skipping all the time. She’s a ghost that continues to haunt me– and I’m thankful for it. Through her I discovered Tracy Chapman, Alanis Morissette, Melissa Etheridge and the Sundays. Liz Phair and Bob Marley. She provided a radically different look at Irish music for me– ushering in album after album from the Pogues, the Cranberries, Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails (October, 1989). Vern claimed that every boy goes through a metal phase. Sometimes it lasts a week, sometimes a couple years, and sometimes we never leave it. Mine came late– despite Beau’s attempts to get me to like Iron Maiden. Pretty Hate Machine is an industrial album that appealed to my appreciation of electronica. And with it I began to explore the larger world of industrial music. I’d go on to collect 12″ singles from Front-242 and attend Nitzer Ebb and Skinny Puppy concerts. Later I’d follow this thread to discover Einstürzende Neubauten and Rammstein. But its most influential effects of Pretty Hate Machine came from bonding over it with college friends who had grown up on steady diets of Anthrax, Motörhead and Metallica. It is through this album– and those subsequent conversations– that I experienced what they heard and vice versa. We are (still) the road crew.

Achtung Baby, U2 (November, 1991). U2 has been a part of my musical landscape for nearly thirty years. Sometimes subversive, sometimes bombastic, sometimes compliant. But this is the album that placed an exclamation mark on 1991 for me. From the German in the title to the Trabbi on the cover art, to the edge in the music– this is U2’s last great album and it arrived at a moment or startling transformation for me. The two moments are forever linked. While the album did little to expand my musical interests, it is a constant reminder of my experiences abroad and my own personal growth, isolation and reinvention.

Superunknown, Soundgarden (March, 1994). I grew up in Colorado, far from Seattle. I went to school in rural Indiana, even further away– geographically and culturally. When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” arrived in 1991, propelling grunge into the limelight, I was in Germany listening to weeks-long radio tributes to Freddie Mercury. The result: I missed grunge. It’s taken me years to acknowledge Nirvana as anything more than a one-hit wonder band or the darling of the latest VH1 countdown show. But I made it back. I see it. I love it. But I came at it through Soundgarden. Generation X had its brief moment on the cultural stage before being swept away. Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Singles and Reality Bites saw mainstream success. Superunknown was the closing act. I caught that and allowed it to take me back through the musical catalog: Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Stone Temple Pilots. And for those bands that have moved on, I’ve gleefully followed with: Foo Fighters, Audioslave, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age.

Blackout, Dropkick Murphys (June, 2003). You don’t have to go far to find the marks left by the Dropkick Murphys. Many of the earliest entries on this blog are decorated with DKM lyrics as I struggled back from brain injury. I listened to these guys a lot through that ordeal. Hell, even the album title Blackout is an appropriate description of that time in my life.

Farmboy introduced me to this band from our time working together at Midway. He’d been playing some Mighty Mighty Bosstones and this was the album that followed up. I bought it and was hooked. I love this version of “The Fields of Athenry”. Warrior’s Code followed, and the rest of their catalog. And more than a few concerts. Perhaps due to the circumstances surrounding my introduction, Blackout remains my favorite of their albums.

I see a number of my earlier musical influences coalescing in this album: the Pogues most notably, but also some Billy Bragg with anthems of social consciousness. When I went to see them at the Vic in 2005, they arrived on the stage under the cover of the Chieftains rendition of “The Foggy Dew” that featured Sinéad O’Connor on vocals. Incendiary. DKM directly added a tremendous amount of music to my catalog: from Flogging Molly, the Tossers, the Mahones, the Fratellis and Cage the Elephant to the Black Keys, Jet and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Broken Boy SoldiersRaconteurs (May, 2006). With the notable exception of “Seven Nation Army” I never really got into the White Stripes. And I don’t remember how I first came across the Raconteurs. Jack White’s musical career was not something I was following. Then again, I don’t remember lots of things from 2005-2006. But I did hear them somewhere, found the album and listened to it start-to-finish at least three times in a row. Whirl, in her infinite patience, didn’t throw the stereo out the window. The inclusion of the Raconteurs into my library led directly to the additions of the Kings of Leon, the Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, the Cold War Kids, Wolfmother, Kasabian, and Radio Moscow. It also caused me to look back at some of the White Stripes stuff I’d collected over the years and check out Dead Weather. I’ve really grown to appreciate Jack White as a result. White’s inclusion in the two music documentaries, Scorsese’s Shine A Light and Davis Gugenheim’s It Might Get Loud made them all that much better.

Finally a few honorable mentions, albums that influenced me, but for particular reasons don’t directly meet the criteria I see out on the list.

“Symphony No. 9 in D minor”, Beethoven (May, 1824). Over the years, Whirl and others have commented on my apparent resistance to classical music. And while it’s true that it is rarely the first choice I make when choosing something to listen to, there are moments when classical is ideal. This is one of the pieces I often go to. I first paid this piece serious attention while working on a senior thesis about Theodor Adorno. Adorno has, in various works, compared the Ninth to a cathedral. That’s a comparison that has stuck with me.


The Beatles, Beatles (November, 1968). My mom and dad are big Beatles fans. Which sort of makes me a big Beatles fan, too. If you’re curious, Dad’s favorite album is Rubber Soul. But for me, it’s the eponymous white album. And while I’ve never purchased this album, it’s been in my collection for as long as I can remember having a collection. I originally taped dad’s copy and then continued to convert it as changes in music technology came about: tape to CD to MP3. This album opened my eyes to the idea of music as experimentation and exploration.

Zen Arcade, Hüsker Dü (July, 1984). My belated gateway punk album. But it wasn’t until I got to college that I heard it. And by that time the band didn’t exist anymore. But the American musical landscape was forever altered by Bob Mould and Grant Hart. When I moved to Chicago I learned that WXRT, Chicago’s Finest Rock, was still in love with them. For good reason. Hüsker Dü brought me Paul Westerberg, Sugar, Sonic Youth, Green Day, the Breeders, the Lemonheads and the Replacements.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers (October, 1991). Like what happened with grunge, I missed the Peppers when they first broke. We played this album often at WNDY, but it would be ten years before I would sit down and really listen to it. When I did, RHCP became a regular addition to my sound-scape. Listening to them always makes me happy, and that sort of magic can’t be underestimated. The fact that they continue to produce funky albums is gravy.

Last week the New York Times ran an article entitled “A Call for a Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat” discussing the results of a new study by the National Institutes of Health about the health and weight-loss benefits of a low-carb diet. I’ve struggled with weight for most of my adult life. It took the trauma of my brain injury to even begin to convince me that my health was something worth protecting. Since that time, I’ve made a number of progressive steps toward improving my health. I organized my attempts upon a simple four-word mantra: “Eat less; move more.”

Many of those early steps are documented in this blog. I wrote about my attempts to manage stress, enter into a regular exercise routine and the various adventures in returning to swimming. I felt I was doing everything right, but had few sustainable results to show for it. The weight would come off for a while and then go right back on. As the years progressed, progress slowed. I felt trapped in a sort of rearguard action fighting just to maintain the status quo.

This spring, I started reading more items about diet. Over the years I’ve tried various attempts at calorie reduction and the success rate was pretty low– as I already mentioned. It worked for maintaining weight– I got quite good at not putting on additional weight. I just had a lot of trouble losing what I’d accumulated over the years through lethargy and indifference.

It was time to go on offense. I decided to radically change my diet, and started eating low-carb in mid-June. I’ve never tried a structured diet plan before. This is a first. I did a bit of reading to help me understand how this might work, and decided that it was worth giving a try. I didn’t really change the quantities I was eating or exercising. Instead I focused on the quality of what I was eating. Specifically, reduce the amount of carbohydrates in my diet and maintain a slight caloric deficit. It’s been twelve weeks since I started; I’ve lost twenty-five pounds. And the notches in my belt seem to suggest the bulk of the loss has been fat. I’m very pleased. I really think there’s something to this.

When the Times published their story, I shared a bit of my success using the prescribed method. Friends asked about my approach and suggested I write it down. Here goes. Here’s my general approach:

  • Daily Carbohydrate Intake: 50-100 grams
  • Daily Calorie Intake: 1800-2300 calories
  • Regular Exercise: 5 days/week

I found there is a lot of conflicting advice about low-carb diets– and diets in general. Rather than read all of that, I looked for some recurring themes and forged my own path as a compromise of various opinions. I’m privileged by the fact that I don’t have any dietary restrictions: I don’t have food allergies; I don’t have trouble with pork or dairy or peanuts or eggs. I can eat what I want.

I found the normal recommended daily allowance of carbohydrates for my age, weight, height and activity level is between 300-400 grams/day, depending on the source. I have set my target to be between 50-100 grams per day. I shoot for 50 grams/day and don’t get anxious if I go over. And I try very hard to remain under 100. I feel comfortable when I’m within that range. I get there by making four fundamental changes to my diet:

  1. Eliminate sugar: Sugar is carbs. Pure and simple. One gram of sugar is one gram of carbs. One cup of sugar is 200g of carbs. Going low-carb means it’s time to say goodbye to sugar. I found lots and lots and lots and lots of talk about how to accomplish this one. From the draconian “live without sweets, fatty!” to a multitude of sugar alternatives each with its defenders and detractors. I found so many conflicting opinions. Which ones are good for you, which ones are bad for you. Natural is better. Natural doesn’t reduce carbs. This one’s no good for baking. I read so many discussions about this I became overwhelmed. Eventually just decided on Splenda (sucralose). It’s been available in the US for over 15 years. You can bake with it– its heat stable to 450 degrees. It’s ubiquitous. I can find it anywhere. And it tastes good. Cook’s Illustrated found the desserts baked with Splenda were without “the artificial flavors that just about every other sugar substitute brings with it”. I’ve used it in a large number of recipes and it’s worked quite well as a straight substitute. The only drawback I’ve encountered with Splenda as a replacement for sugar is that it does not caramelize the way table sugar does. But that’s true of any sugar replacement. I can live with that.
  2. Cut back on bread: Bread accounted for a huge amount of my carb intake. One regular slice of bread– white or whole wheat– has about 12g of carbs. Two pieces of toast with breakfast alone equals half my daily carb budget. I found it very easy to remove bread.
  3. Cut back on pasta: Pasta accounted for another huge amount of my carb intake. One cup of spaghetti is 43g. This was a bit more challenging for me to accomplish, as I do love all forms of pasta. But I persevered. Eliminating pasta did lead to discovering the spaghetti squash which is kinda delicious and interesting to cook with. So there’s that.
  4. Replace/reduce wheat flour: Wheat flour is in so many recipes. It’s also a huge contributor to total carb intake. One cup of all-purpose flour is 95g of carbs. So, it’s useful to have some sort of method to cut back on that. Two “replacements” I’m experimenting with are almond flour and flaxseed meal. Neither one of these behaves exactly like traditional wheat flour, but we’ve found them to be useful (if somewhat imperfect) substitutes in a number of cases.

So why does low-carb work? My layman’s understanding of the process is that a low-carb diet deprives the body of it’s most preferred energy source, glucose. The body easily metabolizes carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose is stored in the blood, liver and muscles to provide quick easy energy for doing work– a process called glycolysis. Moreover, excess glucose is eventually converted and stored as fat. A lower carbohydrate intake translates to less glucose readily available. The body has to look for alternative sources of energy. A traditional calorie reduction diet works on the same principle, but with more of a scorched-earth mentality. Rather than selectively restricting the most preferred energy source, it restricts everything. Instead of taking in 2000 calories a day, maybe you take in 1200 and achieve some weight loss as a result. What a low-carb diet does is restrict the most preferred energy source– and the source that is going to be most readily stored as fat if it isn’t used under the idea that not all calories are created equally. Low-carb dieting forces the body to adapt. And being the adaptable system that it is, the body finds other sources, shifting metabolism into ketosis, the metabolic state where most of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood created by metabolizing stored fat. That’s really the linchpin to the diet, right there: eating in such a way that your body starts to cannibalize the fat it has stored.

I avoid these seven foods, in order of importance:

  • Sugar: This includes soft drinks, fruit juices, agave, candy, ice cream and lots more
  • Gluten Grains: Wheat, oats, barley and rye. Including breads and pasta
  • Trans Fats: Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
  • High Omega-6 Seed and Vegetable Oils: Corn, canola, cottonseed, soybean, sunflower, grapeseed and safflower oils
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Cyclamates and Acesulfame Potassium, if for no other reason than they act as appetite simulators causing you to unnecessarily eat more
  • Diet and Low-Fat Products: Many dairy products, cereals, crackers: these low-fat varieties often contain higher amounts of carbs than the full-fat varieties due to filler ingredients used to replace the fat
  • Highly Processed Foods

I base my diet on these foods:

  • Meat: Beef, turkey, lamb, pork, chicken
  • Fish: Salmon, halibut, tilapia, walleye, bass, trout
  • Eggs: Omega-3 enriched or pastured eggs are best
  • Vegetables: Spinach, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage, brussels sprouts, carrots
  • Fruits: Apples, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, peaches, pears, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupes
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds
  • High-Fat Dairy: Cheese, butter, heavy cream, yogurt
  • Fats and Oils: Olive oil, butter, coconut oil, butter, lard, and cod liver oil
  • Tubers: Sweet potatoes, yams, potato, taro
  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas
  • Non-gluten grains: Quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, barley

This isn’t an exclusive list. I don’t mean to say I eat these things, and these things only. These are examples of the wide varieties of foods I have in my diet. I pay attention to how many carbs are in each serving and just try and keep the total in that 50-100 g/day range. And there really is a huge variety.

A note about net carbs: There’s a lot of discussion about what counts as a carb. Some foods the carbohydrate load is tied up in indigestible fiber so you don’t really metabolize the carbs. People argue that you should take the grams of carbs and subtract the grams of fiber to get the net carb intake, and use that value to manage your diet. I haven’t tried to figure that all out in detail, and tend to just work with the raw numbers. I’ve read other discussions about what’s really important to measure is not the carbs themselves but the glycemic index– a measure of the blood sugar the food converts into when metabolized. And still more discussion about not just the amount of blood sugar, but the rate at which it enters the blood stream. All of these minutia are important in one way or another, but I just found it too overwhelming to worry about. So I focused on the simple things with a rough guideline and wide margin for error.

A note about artificial sweeteners: Lots of people argue against artificial sweeteners altogether. They can wreck a diet plan even though on the surface they appear to be great. No carb load, make food taste good. But the negative effects I’ve witnessed tend to be more psychological. Sweets stimulate appetite. They make you think you’re hungry. So you eat more. When I cut way down on pop a couple years ago it helped a lot, because I didn’t feel the desire to snack quite so strongly or frequently.

A note about low fat foods: the argument against low fat food is that food marketed as low fat often has the fat replaced with higher-carb fillers. So, the idea is: just eat the full-fat variety in the first place and avoid the bait-and-switch.

A helpful cookbook: When Whirl learned I was giving this a try she found this cookbook, The Complete Low-Carb Cookbook by George Stella. We have prepared a number of these recipes and been quite impressed with them. So that’s helped.

As far as portion size, I haven’t really changed any of that. So whatever a portion was before the diet, I eat the same after the diet. If a serving portion was one chicken breast before going on the diet, then it’s one chicken breast afterwards. No change. Portion control has been a problem for me– I just like to eat. So I keep eating. And then I eat too much. I’d set out with the best intentions, but inevitably end up breaking my own rules about how much. The low-carb approach helps to curtail that. I no longer just go into the kitchen and grab a bag of tortilla chips, for example. (A cup of crushed tortilla chips is 46g of carbs. That’s my day’s allotment right there!) I’ve read that switching the metabolism over to ketosis can act as a appetite suppressant. I have not noticed a significant change in feeling hungry. I get hungry around the same times of the day as I did before, but I also feel satiated more quickly at mealtime. I find myself less prone to snack, as well. That may be partly an effect of the diet– the appetite suppressant quality I’ve seen mentioned. It may be partly procedural– I know that I’ll have to account for the carb intake for that snack and am reluctant to do so unnecessarily. It’s working and I want to stay on track.

I should talk a bit about meals. I haven’t eaten a lot for breakfast in a really long time (25+ years). Although with this diet, I have been eating a bit more for breakfast than I did in the past. I often fix eggs– omelettes, scrambled eggs. Sometimes some bacon or sausage. Since August I’ve been getting boxes of fresh Michigan blueberries at the farmer’s market down the street, and I’ll mix a half cup of those (9g) with a serving of Greek yogurt (8g) and a spoonful of Splenda. That’ll be a tasty breakfast and right on target for the daily carb budget.

Lunch— when I don’t spend my lunch hour at the pool– is often a salad (4-16g) or leftovers from dinner the night before.

Dinners have been a huge variety of things, each well within the 15-25g of carbs remaining in the day’s budget. Some examples: Asian turkey and lamb meatballs with sesame and spice broccoli, creamy chicken and sweet potato curry, sausage-stuffed spaghetti squash, white fish en papliotte with roasted brussels sprouts, or bratwurst with sweet potato cakes. There are a lot of low-carb recipes out there and we have not found it particularly onerous to adapt some of our other favorites. Sometimes all that is necessary is to just decide not to serve the bread alongside.

A quick aside about on chickpeas (garbanzo beans): Chickpeas are one of my favorite foods. At first look, they don’t appear to have a place in a low-carb diet (one cup of chickpeas has 161 grams of carbs). I include them because they are a great example that not even all carbs are created equally. Chickpeas are an excellent example of a food source containing slowly-digested carbohydrate and resistant starch. Essentially, this means that they contain starch (carbohydrates) that is converted to glucose only slowly, and starch that is not digested in the small intestine at all. This goes to the discussion about net carbs, glycemic index and glycemic load I was talking about earlier.

Drinks: No diet discussion would be complete without talking about drinks. It’s pretty easy to blow up a low-carb diet just on drinks.

I love coffee. While plain black coffee is perfect for a low-carb diet, the milk, sugar and syrups that are often added can be disastrous. For example a Starbucks grande latte has about 18-23g of carbs in it, depending on what kind of milk you include. Milk tends to have some of carbs in it (12 g/cup), and that value doesn’t vary much between whole, 2%, or skim. Perhaps counter-intuitively, cream has about half the amount of carbs that milk has by volume. Compare one cup 2% milk (11.7g) with one cup heavy cream (6.6g) and consider using cream instead of milk in your coffee.

Beer is another favorite drink. Beer is not particularly carb-friendly. A typical bottle of beer is between 10-13g. Check realbeer.com for a thorough index of the nutritional information for your favorite brew.

Soda pop is another potential land mine. Regular pop is sweetened with sugar. A regular can of pop has 35g of carbs– all sugar. Diet pop eliminates the carbs with sugar substitutes, so that’s a good thing. Be mindful about sugar substitutes as a potential appetite stimulant. The standby drinks are, unsurprisingly, water and tea (and black coffee). I’ve been a huge fan of carbonated mineral water for decades. It satisfies the craving for carbonation like pop does, and avoids the whole sugar and sugar substitute issue entirely.

And finally a few words about exercise. In 2007, I started exercising regularly for the first time in over ten years. I started out simply, going to the gym three times a week for cardio workouts. That expanded to four and five times a week. In late 2011 I rediscovered my love of swimming. Since then I’ve converted my exercise routine almost entirely to swimming five times a week for about 40 minutes each day and with one longer workout of an hour or more, once a week. I swim 2000 yards on the short days and between 2600-3000 yards on the long days. I use it as a break during an otherwise sedentary workday. It’s a way to disconnect, work out aggressions or frustrations. It gives me an uninterruptible block of time to think through plans or problems. It’s part of my daily routine and I feel it sorely when I miss it. I attribute much of the success of my diet to having this complementary exercise regimen already in place. Eat less; move more.

I’ve gone on for a while now and do want to come back to my original point. I like the low-carb approach because– despite all that I’ve said– this wasn’t such a difficult switch for me to make. In the Times article Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, is quoted as saying, “It shows that in a free-living setting, cutting your carbs helps you lose weight without focusing on calories. And that’s really important because someone can change what they eat more easily than trying to cut down on their calories.”

That’s the crux of it, right there. It’s not a no carb diet; it’s not a starvation diet. It’s about paying attention– just a little bit– to the type of foods you’re consuming. I know arguing from a position supported by a sample size of one is a dangerous thing to do. I don’t want this to be interpreted as an argument. Friends and family asked for some details of what I have been doing and I’ve simply taken some time to write down my personal approach and train of thought. I’m publishing it for two reasons, to help me remember what I did and why and because I hope my story helps others facing similar challenges.

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